Comment: The time for RFID in apparel retail is now

Ten years ago RFID was going to change the retail world. Then nothing happened, and a number of myths about the technology were spread. In this article we look at why the time for RFID in apparel is now.

In the apparel industry the modern consumer is pushing for lower prices, perfect availability and quicker delivery – to many different pick-up points. The digitally connected consumer demands the product they want, supplied through the channel of their choosing, at their convenience.

To meet this challenge retailers and brands must have the right product in the right place at the right time. In other words their inventory management systems must provide 100% visibility of stock, from source to the end consumer.

One technology, much hyped in the past, is now providing the solution to an increasing number of apparel retailers and brands – RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification.

Think of an RFID tag as a more powerful barcode. It can store more data and multiple tags can be read in seconds, without the need for 'line of sight' that a barcode needs.

Ten years ago the hype behind RFID was deafening, but then not much happened and during that time a number of myths about RFID were spread throughout the industry.

However now, in 2015, we are seeing an ever increasing number of retailers and brands, in the UK and globally, adopt RFID for item-level tagging, providing the platform to generate multichannel growth, and offering consumers a seamless shopping experience.

So what were the biggest myths of RFID in apparel retail, and why is RFID now being adopted ever more widely?

Myth 1: RFID is unnecessary; I can do my stock management using barcodes, just like in grocery retail

Apparel retailers are typically seeing 80-90% time savings using RFID for stock management.

Myth 2: The cost of RFID tags is too high

The cost of tags represent less than a quarter of the total cost of a typical RFID installation – and most ROI studies indicate relative insensitivity to higher or lower tag costs.

Myth 3: The use of RFID infringes my privacy as a consumer

Under EU regulation consumers have the right to have all tags 'killed' or removed at the point-of-sale.

Myth 4: RFID as a technology just doesn't really work

RFID performs to extremely high levels of reliability – with 99%+ read-rates.

Myth 5: As a multichannel retailer I always know where stock is available, in all my physical locations

Retailers who have deployed item-level RFID tagging have shown both increased sales in-store and also online.

Ten years ago the discussions around RFID focused on the technology: materials, tag costs, tag read rates, positioning of readers and so much more. Today the conversation has moved on: It's about how RFID improves operational efficiencies and delivers a return on investment.

GS1 UK will be providing a regular column for Essential Retail on technology in relation to retail industry standards and the wider supply chain.

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